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Role player makes the most of his gifts

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Submitted Photo The 1988 Class 3A state champion Goddard Rockets basketball team.
Submitted Photo
Tony Ortiz is currently an education and civil rights attorney.

Coaches often tell their athletic teams after winning a Blue Trophy that winning it should not be the highlight of their life or define their life. Coaches often say winning the trophy should be just the beginning of their achievements in life.

Goddard’s 1988 boys’ basketball team holds a special place in their basketball history. Since the school’s inception, they are the only team to hoist the Blue Trophy.

Attitude

The ‘88 team had unselfish players, both on and off the court. One player showed how to handle adversity when being told he would not start as a senior. The player took the bad news in stride and instead of letting it divide the team or get negative, he used that setback to catapult him into a life of making a difference, being competitive, and being of service to others.

Former 6-foot Rocket forward Tony Ortiz had started his junior year but was told his value to the team would be coming off the bench and to provide a spark. Tony was known for his hustle, the ability to chase balls down, dive on the floor for loose balls, rebound and play good defense.

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“Tony filled in and did whatever we needed,” former teammate Wade Scott said. “He was a great rebounder; he was a glue guy. He’s one of those guys we needed on the team. Tony was very unselfish, he may not have played as much as he wanted his last year, but the minutes in his game were quality. He was just great to have on the team.”

After being told he would not start, Tony did what would become a lifelong trait. He decided to look for the positives in the situation and take it as an opportunity to grow. Tony promised to be the best teammate and be ready to help the team when given his chance to play.

The team had youth and height with shooting guards and players such as Kelly McDonald, Wade Scott, Jason Bowles, David Weathers, Bert Foster, Steve Damron, Derrick Evans, Lonny Hergert, Tim Fitzpatrick and Chad Tipton, along with 6-foot-9 freshman Thomas McKnight.

Goddard coach Leon Sims played a lot of players. He would substitute and didn’t feel like there was any drop off in talent. He wanted his team to push the pace as if the starters were in the game.

“I was a role player,” Tony said. “I don’t know if many people have been as lucky as I was for the experience I had. I came off the bench. Sometimes you’re not the star and that’s OK. We’re there on a mission, the mission is to win, and the mission is for the whole team. Those are the lessons that carry you through life.”

The agony of victory

One of the key moments to the season was Goddard lost two games in a row. The last loss was to Roswell. Players and coaches felt they would have to work harder but they could still win. Tony felt like those losses bonded the team, and jump-started the rest of their season.

Goddard did not win the district title in the regular season, they were tied for first place, splitting with Lovington. Goddard had to play a tiebreaker against Lovington in Portales. In that game, Goddard could not stop Chris Duncan, who was playing inspired basketball in memory of his father. Duncan’s father died the day before the game. Goddard lost the tiebreaker for the district and ended up losing to Lovington in the district tournament finals.

Goddard was coming off two losses to Lovington and thought they would face them on the other side of the bracket at the state tournament. Goddard would have to play Silver City in a play-in game to see if they could go to state.

The game would be played at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque. Goddard faced Silver City earlier in the season, beating them by 20 points. It seemed to be going well for Goddard early in the game as they jumped out to a 13-point lead and seemed to be cruising.

According to Scott, the team seemed to relax and ended up getting into foul trouble. Goddard started missing a shot and with less than 30 seconds left in the game, Silver City took a one-point lead. Goddard’s Tim Fitzpatrick took a jumper from the left elbow and missed. Scott came flying in and put the shot in at the buzzer to win the game by one point.

There was a photo in the Albuquerque Journal showing Goddard’s bench looking as if they had lost until that shot went in. Goddard went on to beat Aztec, 76-67, then won 79-70, over Academy. Goddard beat Socorro, 82-76.

“They (Sims and Hill) saw something in me and stuck with me,” Tony said, “it meant a lot of me. Basketball in high school was very, very important to me. It built some core principles about working together and working with people that have carried me for the rest of my life.”

Tony remembers how Goddard’s assistant coach, Hayden Hill, and head coach Leon Sims, believed in him and stuck with him the four years he was in school. Tony was appreciative of the fact that whether he was playing well or poorly, Tony knew he had their support.

The lessons Tony learned playing basketball has carried over to his vocation as a lawyer, with skills such as having the ability to work with people, whether it’s working with clients, his partner, or with issues that are complex. Sometimes Tony must know whether an issue is better handled as a group or as a solo venture.

“The time I was around him, I felt very strongly that something special was in his future,” Goddard assistant basketball coach Hayden Hill said. “He was so smart and driven.”

Tony is still close with his teammates from that championship season. He learned to develop a growth mindset and turn the disappointment of not starting into making the most of his role and do the most with the time he had it. Tony learned to enjoy and trust his teammates. He remembered his mission was to do the best he could for his teammates. That season turned a team into lifelong friendships.

Family

Both of his parents are retired Roswell Independent School District employees. His father, Tony Ortiz Sr., was a high school counselor and his mother, Jennie Ortiz, was a former diagnostician. His parents were the first in their family to go to college and receive an education. Growing up, Tony was rarely allowed to watch TV.

His mother and father were the first and most influential people in his life. His mother taught him English, Spanish and French at home. Tony’s dad was his most important coach, constantly on the field and court with him from the time he was little.

“My parents were loving,” Tony said, “but at the same time, they had very high expectations and encouraged a very serious work ethic in school, on the court, and in everything I did.”

Education

Tony feels he received the best education from Goddard. Tony credits teachers Tommie Bowen and Francis Taylor along with other teachers who helped form a solid academic foundation. By taking honors courses, Tony felt prepared for the rigorous studies of Stanford University, and the University of Michigan Law School.

“You ask anyone that went through Tommie Bowen’s class,” Tony said. “She demanded the absolute best from you. She had us writing and reading and had no sympathy for stupid mistakes. I learned Goddard grammar and structure rules that have carried me to this day.”

Tony thought honors English in his junior and senior years were brutal. Goddard’s demanding academics helped him stay focused on his goals. Tony graduated salutatorian and was student-body president his senior year and state student-body president his junior year.

Tony believes Goddard had some of the best science and math teachers. Anne Taylor taught physics and Dorothy Eachus taught biology. As he works with many schools throughout the state, Tony values the teachers and education he had at Goddard.

“Education was a huge emphasis for my family,” Tony said. “It was expected that we were going to work hard and do our best and make the most of our opportunities. I’m forever grateful for the education and upbringing I had in the Goddard High School.”

Career

Tony is an education and civil rights attorney. Growing up, Tony wanted to become a lawyer and to help people. His strengths were writing and speaking. Tony’s uncle, Pres Torrez, is an attorney for the United States Attorney’s Office, and his son, Raul Torrez is the district attorney for Bernalillo County.

In 2002, he became an attorney in his own private practice and has been in private practice for more than 25 years. His current firm Ortiz and Zamora in Santa Fe has 25-30 school districts across New Mexico with RISD, Hondo, Artesia, Lovington, Jal and Dexter, among others.

His work entails the defense of school boards and school districts. His firm handles everything in the universe of school law issues: from managing lawsuits against the school boards to handling staff, student and parent issues along with community issues that are associated with schools. His firm can also deal with contracts, civil rights, employment, property, everything that comes up in the school context.

“We are always interested in the rights of students and staff,” Tony said. “That’s probably where the title of the context of school law comes from.”

Part of Tony’s growth mindset is with each case: whether he wins, he acts as he has won before. When he loses, he takes the proper positive mindset and tries to grow from the loss and not let the loss define him. He wants to grow whether he wins or loses, personally and professionally.

Tony believes people want lawyers who are effective and will do everything they can for their clients. He is invested in his clients. Tony believes those are the keys to being a good teammate in life and sports.

Anytime Tony takes a case, steps into a courtroom, or stands in front of a jury, he will do everything he can to win. For Tony, he is personally competitive because other people are depending on him. His clients place all of their faith in what he’s doing and that motivates him. With each case he takes, Tony remembers why he became a lawyer, which is to help people.

“I don’t go to court to get a participation medal,” Tony said. “I want to win.”

Tony’s style as an attorney is to play his game. He tries not to worry about what his opponent is doing. He tries to make the opposing attorney respond to him. Like his basketball days, he tries to hustle and bang and not be outworked.

“With the growth mindset,” Tony said, “I never lose, I just learn. It’s hard work and a mindset to not let your losses or your wins mean too much to you.”

Often, Tony will reflect on some of the lessons he learned from Hill, who taught him to focus, work hard and pay attention. From Sims, he learned how to find value in people and life.

Spartan life

A lifelong fitness enthusiast, Tony has run triathlons and won meets in his age group. Recently, he switched to Spartan races. He has run Spartan races with some of his former Goddard 1988 classmates: Dr. Brett Wilmot, head of the ethics department at Villanova University; Paul Byron, Chad Tipton and Katy Horgan. Horgan was a former state champion volleyball player and is now a world champion in the Highland games. This group forms the GHS Spartan crew.

Tony believes in being physically fit, which is why he is up and working out at 5:30 a.m. He does heavy workouts with weights and will run, bike and swim. His fitness goals are about stability, balance and maintenance. He would like to be able to work out as long as his body will allow.

“At this stage in my life,” Tony says, “I’m trying to be differently fit. I want to be able to outlift a runner and outrun a lifter. I want to be able to do a Spartan race and then handle a triathlon.”

“I’m very grateful for my time at Goddard,” Tony said. “I don’t think a lot of people look back at high school and think, ‘that was just fantastic.’ I look back at Goddard class of 1988, and think ‘some of the best times of my life.’”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.